Case Analysis: Golaknath v. State of Punjab

EQUIVALENT CITATION1967 AIR 1643,1967 SCR (2) 762  
CourtSupreme Court of India 
BenchSubba Rao, K.N Wanchoo, M.Hidayatullah, J.C Shah, S.M Sikri, R.S Bachawat, V.Ramaswami, J.M Shelat, Vishishtha Bhargava, G.K Mitter & C.A. Vaidiyalingam
PetitionerI.C Golaknath &Ors.
RespondentState of Punjab & Anrs.
Act ReferredConstitution of India


I.C Golaknath v. State of Punjab was the first landmark judgement to consider the ambit of Article 368[i]. This case was the cornerstone that laid the foundation for the formulation of the Basic Structure Doctrine. This case is very important as it has preserved the erosion of fundamental rights by the application of Article 368. This judgement has been instrumental to curtail the arbitrary power of the parliament and has played a vital role in giving the fundamental rights a transcendental position in the Constitution.


Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution under Article 368 and whether such an amendment violating the fundamental rights of the citizens can be under the judicial review under Article 13(2)[ii] was a highly debatable issue. During this era the same questions came up to the court in the case Shankari Prasad and Sajjan Singh where the court held that Parliament has the power to amend the fundamental right and the word amendment does not come under the purview of law in Article 13(2). The non-amenability of Fundamental Right put forth by Justice Hidayatullah in his dissenting opinion in the Sajjan Singh case gave rise to the landmark case in Constitutional history in Golaknath v. State of Punjab[iii].


The family of William Golak Nath had 500 acres of property in Punjab. The enactment of Punjab Security and Land Tenures Act 1953 restricted the petitioner only to hold 30 acres of land and rest to be treated as surplus. The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of the act which violated the fundamental Right to hold property & acquire property(Article(1)(f), Right to Practice any profession & Right to Equality(Article 14).


The issues before the court were

  1. Whether Parliament has the power under Article 368 to amend the fundamental right enshrined under Part 3 of the Constitution?

2) Whether the word ‘law’ under Article 13(2) includes the amendment?

Related Provisions

1) Article 368

Article 368 of the Constitution prescribes the procedure to amend the constitution.

2) Article 13(2) 

Article 13(2) prohibits the state from making laws that abridge the fundamental right of the citizens guaranteed under part 3 of the Constitution and any law made which violates the fundamental right shall be declared null and void. The main objective behind Article 13 is to secure the paramountcy of the constitution especially with regards to fundamental rights. 

Related Case

1) Shankari Prasad v. Union of India 

In the case of Shankari prasad v. Union of India[iv] for the first time the question of whether fundamental rights can be amended under Article 368 of the Constitution came for consideration in the supreme court. The petitioner in the case challenged the first Constitutional amendment which two provisions to the Constitution namely 31-A and 31-B. The five judge bench of the Supreme court distinguished the power of parliament to legislate ordinary law and constitutional law and held that the word law under article 13(2) did not include a “law” Made by the parliament under Article 368 amending the Constitution. The word “law” In clause 2 must be taken to mean rules regulations made in exercise of ordinary legislative power” and not amendments to the Constitution made in exercise of constituent power ” with the result Article 13(2) did not affect amendments to the Constitution. The same has been upheld in the case of Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan[v].

Petitioner Contention

  1. The Constitution cannot be amended in a way that could destroy the very reason for its existence and permanent nature.
  2. The word “amendment” implies such an addition or change in line with the original context for the improvement of the purpose for which it was framed but not to destroy the very existence of the Constitution. 
  3. The fundamental rights are the heart and soul of the constitution and the main reason for the existence of the Constitution is to preserve and protect the fundamental rights of the people. So the said power should be in accordance to protect and preserve the rights of the people. 
  4. The term amend has a limited meaning under the constitution as the other articles only use expressions such as “Repeal” and “Re-enact” which indirectly depicts that article 368 only encourages the parliamentarians to modify within the framework of the constitution.  
  5. Part III of the Constitution is a self-contained Code that can be construed to meet the changing situations and the fundamental rights are flexible by itself to adapt to changes. 
  6. Article 368 only lays down the procedure to amend, but the power to amend is only the legislative power conferred on the Parliament under Articles 245, 246 and 248 of the Constitution .
  7. The definition of ‘law’ in Article 13(2) of the Constitution includes every branch of law, statutory, constitutional, etc. and therefore any amendment which violates the fundamental rights would be declared null and void.

Respondent Contention 

  1. A Constitutional amendment is made in exercise of the sovereign power and not legislative power of Parliament and, therefore, it partakes the quality and character of the Constitution itself. 
  2. The rigidity and flexibility of the constitution are based on the express limits of the amending power of the parliament. 
  3. The provisions of Article 368 are clear which eliminates the scope of the doctrine of implied limitation. 
  4. The object of the amending clause in a flexible Constitution is to enable the Parliament to amend the Constitution in order to express the will of the people according to the changing course of events and if amending power is restricted by implied limitations, the Constitution itself might be destroyed by revolution. Indeed, it is a safety valve and an alternative for a violent change by revolution.
  5. There are no basic and non-basic features of the Constitution; everything in the Constitution is basic and it can be amended in order to help the future growth and progress of the country. 
  6. The questions such as how to exercise power, what is welfare to the people for which is facilitated through amendments are the discretion which is applied by the legislature. Since these questions are outside the purview of the judiciary these questions are outside the court’s jurisdiction.
  7. The language of Article 368 is clear, categorical, imperative and universal; on the other hand, the language of Article 13(2) is such as to admit qualifications or limitations and, therefore, the Court must construe them in such a manner as that Article could not control Article 368. 
  8. In order to enforce the Directive Principles, the Constitution as amended from time to time and the great fabric of the Indian Union has been built since 1950 on the basis that the Constitution could be amended and, therefore, any reversal of the previous decisions would introduce economic chaos in our country and that, therefore, the burden is very heavy upon the petitioners to establish that the fundamental rights cannot be amended under Article 368 of the Constitution. 


The apex court gave the decision in favour of the petitioners with a majority of 6:5. The court analysed the situation in which the case was filed and felt that if Sajjan Singh case was the law of the land it might give the parliament arbitrary power under Article 368 of the Constitution to amend the fundamental rights which is the heart and soul of the Constitution and with the passage of time this power can be misused to destroy the reason for the very existence of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court in light of events like parliament’s usage of power under Article 368 to amend the Constitution in such a way it abridges the rights of people the majority held that parliament cannot amend the fundamental rights of the Constitution. The majority relied on the marginal note of Article 368 of the Constitution and held that article 368 lays down only the procedure to amend the Constitution which is wrong to say that article 368 empowers the parliament to amend the Constitution. The majority located the power of the parliament to amend the Constitution in Article 248 which gives the parliament the residuary power. The bench also held that Article 13(3)(a) is not exhaustive rather than just inclusive for it to include the word “amendment” in the definition of “law”. The Constitution incorporates an implied limitation that the fundamental rights are out of the reach of parliament.

The majority held that the Constitution has given by its scheme a place of permanence to the fundamental rights.The court rejected the argument of power to amend is a sovereign power and held that though it might be sovereign power it can be sovereign power only within the scope of the power conferred by a particular Constitution. When there are conflicting articles that have a term subject to widest interpretation then the court has the jurisdiction to construe and harmonise them.

The Court identified that there was nothing in the nature of the amending power to be sovereign to override all the express and implied limitations on that power. The amendments to the Constitution, either under article 368 or under other articles are made only by the parliament by following the legislative process adopted by it in making other laws. An amendment of the Constitution can be nothing but “law”.

If an amendment is intended to be something other than law then the constitution’s insistence to parliament is unnecessary. So the court held that the word ” Law” under Article 13(2) includes amendment and any such amendment which abrogates the fundamental rights of the citizen shall be declared void. The minority judges dissented to this interpretation and upheld the judgement in the case of Shankari Prasad fearing that such harmonious interpretation would lead to the rigidity which would disable the parliament from amending the Constitution to meet the changing circumstances. The majority applied the Doctrine of Prospective ruling which implies that the law laid down in this judgement will only bind the future cases and will not have any impact on the past cases to save the country from chaos.   


Through this judgment, the Supreme Court established that 

  1. Fundamental rights hold a superior position in the Constitution which forms an integral part of the Constitution.
  2. Article 368 enumerates on the procedure to amend the constitution. The parliament is empowered to amend the constitution
  3. Amending power of the parliament is not a sovereign power however is subject to direct and indirect limitations 
  4. The word “law” under Article 13(2) also includes amendment and any amendment enacted in a way that violates the fundamental rights of the citizen shall be declared null and void. 
  5. Parliament cannot amend the fundamental rights enshrined under Part 3 of the Constitution.

This judgement has been significant and well known because this case proved that the judiciary is a watchdog and monitors the act of the parliament and any abuse of power cannot stand in the eyes of law. However this case even had its own flaws. Though the judgement was instrumental in protecting the fundamental rights, a basic feature of the constitution but had failed to recognise and protect other basic features of the Constitution. The court indirectly by its interpretation gave a rigid character to the constitution. Recognising these flaws this case was been overruled by the Supreme Court in the case of Kesavananda Bharathi v. State of Kerala[vi] which interpreted that the parliament can amend any provision of the constitution unless it does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution. Thus the judiciary had played a vital role to protect the fundamental rights of the people and also the supremacy of the Constitution.




[i]Article 368 of Indian Constitution

[ii]Article 13(2) of Indian Constitution

[iii]I.C Golaknath v. State of Punjab, 1967 AIR 1643.

[iv]Shankari Prasad v. Union of India, AIR. 1951 SC 458.

[v]Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan,1965 AIR 845.

[vi]Kesavananda Bharati Vs. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461

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